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Marblehead, Mass.

Photo by Robert L. Drake

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When you cruise into Marblehead’s magnificent harbor it seems as if all of the sailing yachts in the world are here. A forest of masts towers above the busy harbor. Like water bugs, club launches dart here and there, yachts slip in and out of the 2,000-plus moorings, dinghies dodge obstacles, and kayakers paddle unperturbed. As you enter, hail a yacht club dockmaster for a vacant mooring (with launch service).

Marblehead’s venerable yacht clubs are revered in yachting circles for their involvement in the America’s Cup and other international sailing events from the 1870s to the present. At the harbor entrance to port stands the 1885 Corinthian Yacht Club (VHF channel 9). Beyond are the 1870 Eastern Yacht Club (channel 9) and its 1887 Pleon (junior) Yacht Club. To starboard (downtown) are the 1866 Boston Yacht Club (channel 68), 1951 Dolphin Yacht Club (channel 68) and 1878 Marblehead Yacht Club (channel 71). All have websites.
The harbormaster — (781) 631-2386, channel 16 — accepts advance dockage reservations for Tucker’s Wharf. You can land dinghies at the adjoining Town Landing. Marblehead Trading Co. — (781) 639-0029 — operates a full-service yard and fuel dock.
The Marblehead peninsula, which juts into the Atlantic 17 miles north of Boston, protects the deepwater harbor. In 1660, English fishermen reported to their king that Marblehead is the “greatest Towne for fishing in New England.” Commercial fishing remains part of the economy, although it was eclipsed in the 19th century by recreational sailing.
Today, few New Englanders dispute the town of 21,000’s assertion that it’s the “Yachting Capital of the World.” Think John Alden, L. Francis Herreshoff, Ted Hood, C. Raymond Hunt and other legendary designers, builders and sailors.
Although the waters teem with almost daily races, regattas and evening round-the-buoys contests, the racing climaxes each July with the prestigious Marblehead Race Week and Junior Race Week. About 1,000 international youth and adult sailors compete in 11 one-design classes, often for world or national championships.
In July, the biennial Marblehead to Halifax Ocean Race drew more than 125 yachts in five divisions. A Gary Jobson TV program on the 363-mile race to Nova Scotia, which dates from 1905, will air this fall on ESPN. Other yachts competed in the DownEast Challenge to Rockland, Maine.
Since the 1600s, Marblehead men have excelled in fishing, trading, sailing, maritime shoreside industries and the Navy. They zealously defied Britain during the American Revolution — ferrying George Washington across the Delaware — and during the War of 1812. Marblehead seamen in the sailing vessel Hannah engaged the British navy Sept. 5, 1775, bolstering the town’s claim as the “Birthplace of the American Navy.”
You can learn more at the Marblehead Historical Museum, on a self-guided walking tour or in the 1768 mansion of Jeremiah Lee, then the richest merchant in Massachusetts. You’ll feel a sense of the past on Old Burial Hill, viewing the original “Spirit of ’76” painting in the town hall or watching a Marblehead Model Yacht Club race at Redd’s Pond, a tradition since 1892. History also envelops you on the hilly, narrow streets and stone steps between 18th century buildings in the extensive National Historic District.
Within walking distance of the town dock, you’ll find many maritime services, boutiques, art galleries, theaters and music venues. A multitude of pubs, coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants beckons. You determine whether the sun is above the yardarm.
Returning to your yacht, you’ll agree with the town fathers: “In Marblehead, one doesn’t reflect on the town’s historic past; you live it every day.”,

See related articles:

- Perfect Picks

- Northeast Harbor, Maine

- Mystic, Conn.

- Chestertown, Md.

- Oriental, N.C.

- Flamingo, Fla.

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue.